An elected sultan
Erdoğan’s ‘fair and square’ election victory will not result in stability, writes Esen Uslu
The first elections under the new presidential regime, which will usher in sweeping powers akin to those of a sultan, were held on June 24 after a bitter and rigged campaign.
Election day saw further bloodshed in Suruç. Partisans of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched attacks on sympathisers of the leftwing, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Four were killed. The relocation of ballot boxes from Kurdish villages - which form the core of HDP support - forced many people to walk miles in order to vote. Harassment, restrictions and intimidation under the stipulations of emergency rule were used to good effect against the opposition.
When counting started, the Anatolian Agency, the state’s official news agency, assumed responsibility for providing the results. The website of the official Supreme Council for Elections (SCE) could not be accessed. The independent website formed by NGOs to check the results was subject to a cyber-attack as soon as it came online. It was put out of operation. So it was the Anatolian Agency that declared the overall tally - and declared Erdoğan the victor in the presidential election.
The opposition had planned to stage a sit-in at the SCE headquarters in Istanbul, but the police barricaded the approaches to the building with lorries. As they did during the July 15 2016 coup attempt. Crowds were dispersed using tear gas, and the main opposition candidates failed to turn up. Indeed, they were not heard from right through the night - until a presenter on state TV announced that a tweet had been received from a senior figure in the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) conceding that “the man has won!”
The next day the ‘social democratic’ CHP did indeed concede that Erdoğan had won the election ‘fair and square’ (even though it had been conducted rather less than fairly), thus sealing the legitimacy not only of the results, but of the election itself. As usual the CHP refrained from doing anything that could be construed as calling upon the masses to mobilise against the established order. There were rumours that state officials had applied pressure on the ‘social democrats’ to accept the results without too much fuss.
Interestingly, a few days earlier, the Anatolian Agency had been testing its election results service by supplying ‘dummy’ voting figures to TV channels and newspapers, and by mistake one TV channel broadcast part of the trial live. After the election, those ‘dummy’ figures were found to be nearly an exact match for the actual result!
Afterwards the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had been monitoring the elections, held a press conference to publicise its interim report. This provides a concise breakdown of the process, summarising all the irregularities in polite but convoluted language. It is now available on the internet.1
While it was announced that Erdoğan had won the presidential election outright in the first round with 52%, in the parliamentary poll AKP’s vote dropped to around 42%. Nonetheless, an overall majority was declared for the AKP-led coalition. Their junior partner is the National Movement Party (MHP).
However, it was something of a mystery how that overall majority was obtained. Opinion polls had predicted that MHP would secure only a few seats. But, according to the results, it maintained its 11% share of the vote, even though it had suffered a split in October 2017. The breakaway Good Party (IP) managed to pick up 10% of the vote. Opinion polls had suggested that the MHP might not even reach the electoral threshold of 10% for parliamentary representation.
A recent amendment to electoral legislation, allowing parties to form alliances and take part as a single entity, means that the electoral threshold does not apply to the individual components of those alliances. That change was implemented mainly to ensure the MHP retained its parliamentary representation. In the end it proved unnecessary, it seems.
However, the outcome could have resulted from the ‘irregularities’ identified by the OSCE. MHP is said to have sizable support within the security forces, after all. Erdoğan’s presidential tally could have been enhanced in a similar way.
Erdoğan, not to mention CHP, had been counting on HDP failing to reach the electoral threshold. As a result of the various oppressive emergency powers measures, plus the ‘village protector scheme’, HDP’s vote in the Kurdish provinces was indeed reduced. However, in the western provinces along the Aegean coast and all the industrial centres HDP’s vote increased. As a result it cleared the electoral threshold with 12%.
That may seem impressive. But let us not forget that under the new presidential regime MPs do not have much power. As one commentator put it, “There is no need for opposition MPs to rush to find accommodation in Ankara, since there is nothing for them to do in parliament under the new system.” The president can rule by decree thanks to emergency powers and exert a huge sway over the judiciary. HDP MPs could also face being stripped of parliamentary immunity and detained on trumped-up charges - if convicted they would lose their seat.
And it is the president who is responsible for the war in Kurdistan; the tricky US and Nato relations over Syria, Iraq and Iran; the balancing act to maintain a close relationship with Russia without alienating Turkey’s western allies; the trade war with the USA; and the stalled harmonisation with the European Union. He will also be responsible for the impending economic crisis - which may well see the International Monetary Fund once again being called to the rescue. Turkey has a mounting debt problem due to lack of long-term investment, high inflation and a falling lira.
In 1980 the military junta attempted to banish ‘extremism’ and create a stable two-party regime, consisting of a governmental party with strong executive powers and a loyal opposition that did not rock the boat. Despite all the junta’s brutality it palpably failed. Then in 2002 the AKP set out to achieve something similar for the benefit of Turkish finance capital - shattered by the July 15 2016 coup attempt launched by the AKP’s opponents in the military and bureaucracy.
Last weekend’s elections have proved that the idea of a stable Turkey is a chimera. There will now be eight parties represented in parliament, and four of them have sufficient seats to form official parliamentary groups. But there is no party with an overall majority. The AKP needs MHP support to win any vote.
But this is hardly good for the left. The new presidential regime, with powers akin to those under martial law, will be presented to the world as democracy.